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Education: The Schools Bill makes radical changes

10 June 2022

Howard Dellar asks if the new legislation sounds the death knell of the ‘dual system’

ODST

Kidmore End CE Primary School in Oxford

Kidmore End CE Primary School in Oxford

THE Schools Bill 2022 is the most fundamental piece of educational legislation since 1996 (News, 27 May). It legislates for a move to a wholly academised system, and, in doing so, signals the end of the “dual system” that has stood since at least 1902.

The dual system, which received its last significant overhaul in 1944, is shorthand for the partnership between the State and Churches (and more recently other religious bodies, and sometimes secular bodies) in the provision and management of schools.

The dual system enshrines various important powers and principles that, to a varying degree, are under threat by the Bill, by the potential regulations that will follow it, and by the policy details of the White Paper Opportunity for All.

Under the provisions of the Bill and the White Paper, new academies will only ever now have state-provided sites. This amounts to a situation in which all academies are state-provided. They are merely run under contract by church or other bodies. Other than competitions, or free-school bids, there will be no future ability of Churches to propose to establish new schools. Indeed, the White Paper suggests that there will be no new church schools until all existing ones become academies — perhaps a 13-year process.

The governance of the school can be changed fundamentally by being taken away from the founding church body or a proxy agreed by it. No multi-academy trust (MAT) has more than a seven-year rolling contract for the management of any individual academy, and the Secretary of State can replace MAT directors by nominating interim directors, completely disempowering church governance.

The Bill protects present arrangements for RE and worship in academies with a religious character, but the Church of England will surely be concerned (as it was in 1944) with those matters in all schools. The Bill provides that worship and RE arrangements in ordinary academies can be changed (or indeed removed) by regulations. At the moment, this would require primary legislation, as is surely right.

The arrangements for the transfer of land to trustees are radically changed, such that no new land will ever be provided except as a direct exchange for existing trustee land. There appears to be no possibility of trustees’ receiving or purchasing extra land for their school, or purchasing sites to be held on trust for new academies with a religious character.

This surely spells the end of the dual system, since the underpinning site trusts are key to the permanent status of church schools, and preserving their religious character.

Howard Dellar is a senior partner and head of the Ecclesiastical, Education and Charities Department at Lee Bolton Monier-Williams.

Read Hattie Williams’s feature on the Schools Bill here

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